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This article is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

A Day with the DNB Donald Davie

WHEN the forty-niners of California, lacking yeast, wanted to bake their sourdough bread, they had need of a 'starter', a fermenting agent-in their case warm raw milk and flour-which, suitably tended and occasionally refreshed, would preserve and regenerate itself indefinitely through a series of later bakings. In the same way, properly to savour the delights of the DNB, one needs a starter, in the shape of a sentence bringing together a number of more or less obscure names, attached to long dead people who are asserted to have something in common. Once the process of speculative fermentation is thus started, it can and does renew itself indefinitely out of the resources of the DNB itself-as we shall see. But the initial provocation must be there, or must be supplied.

For the purpose of this day's representative entertainment, I have taken a sentence from a fairly recent book by the Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh, H. T. Dickinson, his Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (1977). The sentence reads (it is on p. 202): 'Those who campaigned most vigorously for religious toleration and especially for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts were often also at the forefront of the movement for political reform.' Nothing there, to ferment or germinate! But the sentence is keyed to an end-note (p. 342), and that gives us what we are looking for:


Dissenters who campaigned for both religious toleration and political ...


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